Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fashion Week Ordered To Leave Lincoln Center - Park To Be Restored In Lawsuit Settlement

Damrosch Park Convention Center.  For years the Bloomberg administration allowed Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (LCPA) to rent out the entire 2.4 acre Damrosch Park to various private clients including Fashion Week (above) which they did for up ten months of the year.   These actions constitute an illegal alienation of Damrosch Park in violation of the New York State Public Trust Doctrine and other laws.     (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)  Click on images to enlarge)

Fashion Week, and other events like this are now prohibited from returning to Damrosch Park under a court ordered setlement.  The park, much of it destroyed to make way for private events, must also be restored. 

“Parks is thrilled to welcome Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week to its new, larger, home in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center,”  - Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe 2010.

Thankfully the new administration does not share the same irresponsible view.


Fashion Week will have to find a new home after February.

Private events in Damrosch Park will now be the exception not the rule according to the far-reaching agreement negotiated between plaintiffs, Lincoln Center and the City over the illegal use of Damrosch Park for non-park purposes.   

The settlement prohibits any possibility of Fashion Week renewing its contract with Lincoln Center, as contemplated in the original 2010 agreement.  A five-year renewal would have allowed the fashion show to stay until 2020.  Fashion Week's permanent home in Hudson Yard's Culture Shed is still years away.   

Now Fashion Week will have to find an interim home, away from city parkland,  until thier new home is completed. 

"IMG Fashion Week shall vacate the premises and remove all tents and other Fashion Week equipment from the park," according to the settlement, which was ordered by Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan.

Where's The Park. Damrosch Park's Northeast Entrance/Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week's Main Entrance.  This event like others have been allowed to completely take over the 2.4 acre park. "I was horrified to learn about the demise of Damrosch Park. It is ironic that a family of German immigrants, who brought so much to the musical life of this city and this country have been pushed aside by a German manufacturer of flashy cars." - Sidney Urquhart, granddaughter of Walter Damrosch.

The settlement includes language to prevent commercial, non-park purpose uses in the future.

"....the City and LCPA (Lincoln Center Performing Arts) intend to further expand public access to the Park by not entering into agreements for commercial events substantially similar in natures, size and duration to Fashion Week and for which access is not generally available to the public," the settlement states.

Under the Bloomberg administration the City allowed Lincoln Center free rein over Damrosch Park with no limitations on the number of private events it could hold in the public park. 

In May 2013 the plaintiffs, including NYC Park Advocates, Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, the founder of Friends of Damrosch Park and other individual neighborhood park users were forced to sue in an effort to restore the park and return it back to the community.

The park had been taken over for up to ten months of the year by private revenue generating non-park use events according to the suit.

As a deterrent to any future events like Fashion Week the settlement contains language that allows the presiding judge, Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan to issue a Temporary Restraining Order in the event Lincoln Center attempts to use the park for something like that again.   

Under the terms of the settlement Lincoln Center will also be required to produce the secret agreement "sublicense" between Fashion Week and Lincoln Center which lays out the financial arrangements  Lincoln Center received a $ 17.2 million dollar payday over five years which was diverted from the City General Fund.  

The public including the City's Comptroller were not privy to the agreement on the public park.  All future sublicense agreements for special events must also be produced.   

Access Denied.  A private security guard prevents the general public from entering a private event held in Damrosch Park on May 9, 2013, one of dozens of events held annually inside the public park.  Additionally, the Bloomberg administration also allowed Lincoln Center to divert all the consession revenue from the City's General Fund. The revenue from the city's July 2010 license agreement with LCPA collected totaled more than $32 million dollars over a four year period alone. 

The park's planting beds with magnificent azaleas were all destroyed for private events. Plantings are required to be restored under the settlement. 

Not Open To The Public - Entrance By Invitation Only. Never again are events like this allowed to seize this public park.

The Mercedes-Benz Star Lounge inside what is supposed to be a public park.

Public Park? The convention center-like atmosphere inside Damrosch Park for Fashion Week.

The City and Lincoln Center are required to restore much of the park including replanting trees and flora destroyed to make way for Fashion Week.  The City famously allowed Lincoln Center to illegally destroy 57 trees to make way for the semi-annual fashion event.    

The settlement also requires the installation of an additional Parks Department sign near the northeastern entrance of the park for the first time.  Defendants even went so far as to remove the only sign indicating it was a public park. City rules must also be posted in the park for the first time.

"Damrosch Park belongs to the City of New York not Lincoln Center," said Geoffrey Croft, of NYC Park Advocates, a plaintiff in the suit.

"The days of the Bloomberg administration's irresponsible policy of handing over public parks as cash cows for private groups and businesses are hopefully numbered.  We hope this settlement signifies a dramatic shift in policy and that parks across the city will finally be protected."

"It was outrageous and illegal," said Olive Freud president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, a plaintiff in the case.

"It is environmentally unsound and harmful to the quality of life to allow a private for-profit organization to usurp a public amenity.  In our densely populated City of concrete and tall buildings the most important thing is to protect and cherish our public parks and open spaces. They are precious. 
Communities should not be afraid to fight.  This should be an example for the rest of the city. 

What Lincoln Center did was illegal and they should have been required to pay our legal fees, they made millions from this," she added.  

The Bosque. Since the park's opening in 1969, the granite benches - part of noted landscape architect Dan Kiley's (1912 - 2004)  original garden design -  have been an integral part of the park. They were removed for Fashion Week and area residents want them returned.  (Photo: Darial Sneed)

The granite benches were permanently removed and replaced by couches for an outdoor smoking and drinking area during Fashion Week.

"Almost 5 years ago I woke up to the sound of power saws and watched helplessly as our beautiful neighborhood Park was destroyed by the monstrous Fashion Week," said plaintiff Cleo Dana, Chair of Friends of Damrosch Park.

"We were devastated.  It was a gross injustice perpetrated on us by a misguided administration that valued mega-corporations’ profits over the public’s right to its own parks.   We are thrilled at the current settlement and that the Park will be rebuilt. It can never be the same but it will be wonderful to have the community sharing space together again."

The Parks Department and LCPA are also required to create a plaque - to replace the one mysteriously lost - to honor the contributions of Walter Damrosch and other members of the family to the city's musical life. 

"I was horrified to learn about the demise of Damrosch Park," said Sidney Urquhart, a granddaughter of Walter Damrosch, who attended the park's dedication on May 22, 1969 with several other members of her family.

"It is ironic that a family of German immigrants, who brought so much to the musical life of this city and this country have been pushed aside by a German manufacturer of flashy cars. (Fashion Week is sponsored by Mercedes Benz)

"As a fourth-generation member of the Damrosch family, I am so gratified that this beautiful little park that was created to honor their achievements and then woefully neglected and misused, will now be restored to its former glory."

Lincoln Center has denied the existence of the memorial flagpole with its bronze plaque honoring five members of the Damrosch family.

March 2010 months before 56 trees,  including all of the ones shown above,  were  destroyed in order to accommodate Fashion Week. The Parks Department then later tried to cover up the reason for the removel of the trees. Below a plywood platform replaced the trees which enabled event tents to be erected. 

The planting beds were replaced by a plywood platform. The NYCHA Amsterdam Houses can be seen directly behind the bandshell. 

Plaintiff Harold Smith has lived in the NYCHA Amsterdam Houses directly across the street for more than sixty-five years. He remembers the tenements and the 5 and 10 cent store on Amsterdam Avenue long before Lincoln Center and the park were built.  From his apartment as a teen he watched the city raze the buildings "brick by brick" they took to build the sprawling cultural campus.  

"I feel really good, this is a victory and we don't get many of those," Mr. Smith said of the settlement.   

"The park used to be so beautiful, the trees were so full. We got pushed aside for money-making purposes.  Since Fashion Week we haven't been able to go over there."

Mr. Smith, a musician who turned professional at age 14, said he feels most concerned for the seniors, the kids and a neighbor in particular in a wheelchair who have been shut out of their own park over the years.

"The older people are going to head back in there. They are so hurt,  they have such negative feelings towards Lincoln Center,  they feel trotted on. The people around here feel very disrespected like they don't matter.  They'll believe the park is open when they see it. They don't trust them."  

Two Outstanding issues

Since Fashion Week the Big Apple Circus has also been allowed to take up the park's entire 2.4 acres for more than four months annually including the fall, one of the most desirable seasons.  Area residents want at the very least part  of the park to be re-opened during the circus. 
City Charter - Section 109 

Another outstanding issue not resolved in the suit is the city's policy of allowing the money generated from Damrosch Park to be diverted to Lincoln Center.  

City Charter section 109 requires that all revenue of the city be paid into the general fund. The city's policy of allowing certain groups to divert these revenues creates enormous disparities that needs to be addressed.   These types of arrangements also exist in Bryant Park and the High Line, among others.
The License Agreement between the City and LCPA for instance provides absolutely no compensation to the City and instead allows all of the revenue generated from Damrosch Park to go to LPCA in order to “provide a substantial revenue stream”  for them.

From 2006-2010 alone, LCPA’s Revenues and Expenses Reports show  that revenues from LCPA’s “Special Events” and “Concessions” totaled more than $29 million dollars - the garage located under Damrosch Park,  which is owned by the Parks Department,  alone grossed more than $26.7 million,  all of which was paid to LCPA and none to the City. 

The Bloomber-era Licence Agreement goes even further to protect the fiscal interests of LCPA at the expense of the City: “[The Parks Department] agrees that it shall not impose any fee, charge, or other imposition on either LCPA or Special Event Promoters engaged by LCPA in connection with Special Events held in the Public Areas.”

In addition to these amounts under a separate agreement, Fashion Week’s sponsor IMG Worldwide, is paying up to $17.2 million to LCPA to use the city park twice a year. This money is also being diverted from the city's general fund. The agreement between LCPA and IMG Worldwide, did not go through the City Comptroller’s Office.  

Plaintiffs were represented by the Super Law Group, LLC. 

A private security guard attempts to prevent the park from being photographed from Amsterdam Avenue during the setup of Fashion Week.  (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)  Click on images to enlarge)

Read/View More:

WABC - December 18, 2014 - By Tim Fleischer 

New York Daily News - December 18, 2014 -  By Barbara Ross 

New York Post - December 18, 2014 - By Natalie O'Neill and Julia Marsh 

New York Times - December 18, 2014 - By Robin Pogrebin   

Associated Press - December 18, 2014 -  By Leanne Italie  

Crain's New York Busness - December 18, 2014 - By Adrianne Pasquarelli 

AM New York - December 18, 2014 - By Ivan Pereira 

Metro NY - December 18, 2014

CNBC -  December 18, 2014 - By Krystina Gustafson

 New York Magazine -  December 18, 2014 - By Véronique Hyland 

gothamist - December 18, 2014 - Rebecca Fishbein  

 The Hollywood Reporter - December 18, 2014 - By Stephanie Chan

 WNBC - December 18, 2014

A Walk In The Park -  May 22, 2013 - By Geoffrey Croft 

A Walk In The Park February 15, 2012 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - February 6, 2012

A Walk In The Park - September 10, 2010 - By Geoffrey Croft

A Walk In The Park - September 11, 2010 - By Geoffrey Croft


  1. Is this going to affect Midsummer Night Swing?

  2. good news for a change!

    What a creep Benepe was/is, how can Trust for Public Land hire him? Oh yeah he gave them land.

    thanks awalkintheparknyc

  3. A event security guards prevents the general public from entering a private event held in Damrosch Park on May 9, 2013, one of dozens of events held annually inside the public park.